Persephone’s Dilemma

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Persephone's Choice

Persephone’s Dilemma

Persephone’s dilemma: the pomegranate seeds. Many variations are found in different versions of the Persephone myth. All that I have seen so far agree that her father, Zeus, agreed to give her to his brother, Hades, without not just her consent but also without her knowledge. Just another example from the world’s literature of violence against women across time and space. That is how Persephone came to be in the Underworld in the first place: through the collusion of her father and uncle. Even I do not see how a young girl can fight that kind of strength against her. It is what it is, whether I like it or not. I cannot find a way in my mind to reinterpret that part of the myth.

After her mother, Demeter, in her grief and rage caused the Earth to go barren and be covered by Winter, Zeus worked out an agreement for Persephone to be allowed to return from the Underworld to Earth, bringing with her Spring and a return to life on the barren Earth. But, here is the hitch, at least for those of us who do not like Winter. While in the Underworld, Persephone had eaten some seeds of the pomegranate, binding her to her husband, Hades, with the requirement that she return to the Underworld for part of the year, during which time the Earth again experiences Winter. The time varies from three months to six months in different versions of the myth.

A major variation in different versions of the myth is how Persephone came to eat the pomegranate seeds in the first place. In some versions, she was tricked into it. In some versions she chose to eat the seeds, knowing full well the consequences. It was that variant that really got into my brain almost from the first day (September 15, 2015) I began to read the Persephone stories.

In my world, I do not see women as weak creatures who can be easily fooled. Over the years, studying copper miners’ wives as an anthropologist, or working with women as an obstetrican/gynecologist, I have seen women cope creatively and strongly with many different situations in which they found themselves, situations not of their own choosing. So, in my visual reinterpretation of the myth, I simply don’t buy that Persephone was tricked into eating the seeds.

Persephone had no choice initially about being in the Underworld with Hades. But in the various versions of the myth, she is not painted as being unhappy once she is there. Her mother, Demeter, is furious and grieving at the absence of her daughter, but that kind of feeling is not conveyed about Persephone, at least in the versions of the myth I have seen so far. In my visual painting of the myth, she chooses to eat the seeds, knowing she will be tied to Hades as wife, and that she will be required to spend part of her time in the Underworld. In some ways it actually reminds me a bit of Georgia O’Keeffe, who spent part of her time with her husband, and part of her time without him in New Mexico. I’ve always thought one of the better times in a former marriage was when we were commuting and seeing each other three days each month. It was very easy for me to see Persephone making the choice to eat the seeds.

Of course, in doing so, even though Demeter is the one who causes Winter to fall on the Earth, and that would never have happened if Zeus and Hades had not stolen her daughter (why don’t those two guys ever get blamed for Winter, anyway????????), it seems that in the end, Persephone bears much of the blame for Winter because she ate the seeds.

As I was thinking about that, and how I was going to present that visually, I couldn’t help thinking about another woman who brought grief to the world with another fruit, an apple: Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. BOOM! Thinking about those two together certainly got my brain going. Persephone and the pomegranate bring us Winter, and Eve and the apple got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden. I began to see things in terms of Woman, not just Persephone. Woman, blamed for all kinds of grief in the world. I decided to play with that visually.

Persephone weighing whether or not to eat the pomegranate seeds, knowing and accepting that she would be blamed for some human misery at Winter. This is Persephone’s dilemma:

Persephone's Dilemma
No Matter Which, I’ll Be Blamed

Each Fall, she knew the time was approaching for her to return to the Underworld and we again see Persephone’s dilemma:

Persephone's Dilemma
The Time Approaches

Persephone accepts responsibility for her choice. In today’s terminology, “she owns it.”

Persephone's Dilemma
By My Choice

This myth presents such a rich tapestry to explore visually, and more chapters are to come. The next set will explore “what happens in the Underworld…” Stay tuned.

Series Navigation<< Pomegranate Symbolism and PowerPersephone in the Underworld >>

8 Replies to “Persephone’s Dilemma”

  1. The story is developing, moving forward. I enjoy reading it. I really like your choices ! I don’t see women as weak creatures who can easily be fooled either, far more interesting to think she made her choice…and that’s what we all do, I do think life is a succession of choices, a series of decisions we make.
    I like the part about Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my favorite painters by the way 😉
    ….this part time « arrangement » can probably be a very good solution sometimes !
    The parallel with Eve is excellent ! I like the combination of those two « legends »or « myth » (don’t know which word is the most appropriate)
    I really like your photographic interpretations. Of course, I’m pretty sure you took far more photos for each « moment »
    To end up I’d like to ask you a question :
    Why did you choose to change the color of Persephone’s dress ?
    Is it because she has made her choice ? A new part of the « story » is starting and you want to point it in this way ?
    Is it because black symbolises the underworld and prepares us (the viewers) for this new « step » in the story ?
    Waiting for some more….

    1. Hello, Marie-Claude! Thank you for reading and for your comments and questions. I totally agree that life is a succession of choices. And, yes, I have many images, and you will be seeing more in days to come. I’ve never done a big project like this, and it is so much fun. Kelly and I have already planned a spring shoot with her in pastels as she returns as Goddess of Spring.
      Both the red and the black colors to me represent the colors of fall/winter. They are dark and rich. I had originally planned to do all the images with black, but Kelly suggested she would like to try some red. This was another one of those “trust your model” moments. In the next set you see, “what happens in the Underworld,” she will be in red, and passion is a major theme in that set. So, I have found myself going back and forth with the choices I have. Some of it happened by luck (“planning increases the chances for good luck” 🙂 ), giving me a chance to make choices.
      Again, I truly appreciate your following this visual interpretation as it unfolds, and the comments and questions you pose. They make me think, and will be reflected as this story continues. Thank you!

    1. Hi, Tim. You’ll be seeing more of the red in the next set, which features life in the Underworld in Winter. I’m not sure I would even have thought of doing that set if she had not been in red. I think (hope) you’ll like it!

  2. Amazing photographs. They have a rich texture and seem timeless. It is an intense exercise to gaze at just the picture and allow yourself to imagine other stories that could go there. That is the artistry-when the picture speaks to people in more ways than you were thinking when you did the work.

    1. Hi, Lynn. I don’t think anything you could have said about these images would have pleased me more. I thank you. I am especially happy that you mention the intensity. I have two, perhaps three, more posts to do using images from a November photo shoot. I did these for myself, and I have never enjoyed working with a set of images so much. But, this weekend I am taking a break from them! I’m exhausted from the joyous effort of working with these images.
      I thank you for dropping by, but I especially appreciate your comment about intensity. Thank you!

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